Myths Obscure Voodoo, Source Of Comfort In Haiti

February 19, 2010

Author: Samuel G. Freedman

Source: The New York Times

Barely 18 hours after an earthquake devastated Haiti on Jan. 12, the Rev. Pat Robertson supplied a televised discourse on the nation’s history, theology and destiny. Haiti has suffered, he explained, because its rebellious slaves “swore a pact with the devil” to overthrow the French two centuries ago. Ever since, he went on, “they have been cursed by one thing or another.”

Crude and harsh as Mr. Robertson’s words were, he deserved a perverse kind of credit for one thing. He actually did recognize the centrality of voodoo to Haiti. In the voluminous media coverage of the quake and its aftermath, relatively few journalists and commentators have done so, and even fewer have gotten voodoo right.

Consider a few facts. Voodoo is one of the official religions of Haiti, and its designation in 2003 merely granted official acknowledgment to a longstanding reality. The slave revolt that brought Haiti independence indeed relied on voodoo, the New World version of ancestral African faiths. To this day, by various scholarly estimates, 50 percent to 95 percent of Haitians practice at least elements of voodoo, often in conjunction with Catholicism.

Yet in searching the LexisNexis database of news coverage and doing a Google search this week, I found that Catholicism figured into three times as many accounts of the quake as did voodoo. A substantial share of the reports that did mention voodoo were recounting Mr. Robertson’s canard or adopting it in articles asking Haitian survivors if they felt their country was cursed.